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"Shelley was quite right!" exclaimed the young man at the book-shelf, with the prematurely bent back turned upon Doctor Dollar at his old oak desk.
"He was never wrong when he stuck to poetry," said the doctor, looking up from an unfinished prescription on which the ink was nevertheless dry.
The other gave a guilty start. He was an immaculate young wreck, with the fashionable glut of hair plastered back from a good enough face, as if to make the most of its haggard pallor. And he was in full evening dress, for the crime doctor's patients came at all hours.
"Did I say anything?" he asked with exaggerated embarrassment.
"You thought something aloud," said Dollar, smiling. "Don't let it worry you; that's not one of the straws that shows an ill wind. What is it of Shelley's, Mr. Edenborough?"
"Only a bit of one of his letters," said the young man. "I just happened to open them at something that rather appealed to me." And the book shot back into its place.
"Not the bit about the prussic acid, I hope?" suggested the doctor, for all the world as if in fun.
"What was that?" said Edenborough, with a face that would not have imposed upon an infant.
"A little commission from Shelley to Trelawny, for a small quantity of the 'essential oil of bitter almonds,' as he called it, so that he might 'hold in his possession that golden key to the chamber of perpetual peace.'"
"That was it," said the youth at length. "I may as well be honest about it. But I don't know how on earth you knew!"
The doctor gave a kindly little laugh.
"Only by knowing the book," he assured the patient. "It's rather a notorious passage—and you had just been clamoring for at least a silver key to some chamber of temporary peace!"
"You said you would give me one, Doctor Dollar."
"And now I think I won't," said the doctor, rising from his aged chair. "No; you shall not go without hearing my reasons, and what I am going to propose to you instead. These keys, Mr. Edenborough"—and he tore the unfinished prescription into little bits—"gold or silver, they are not keys at all, but burglars' jemmies that injure and vitiate the chambers they break into. It certainly is so with the night's rest you want at any price; it may be the same with the perpetual peace that Shelley took for granted. Yet I happen to have a Chamber of Peace of sorts here in this house. It's my latest fad. You've found it a name, and in return I should like to offer it to you for the night."
"Do you mean a room that sends you off instead of drugs?"
Young Edenborough was looking puzzled, but for the moment taken out of himself. He had heard of Doctor Dollar as a rather eccentric consultant, but as the very man for him, from no less an authority than the Home Secretary of England, and no further back than that very evening at dinner. He had come straight round from Portman Square, foreseeing miracles and magic potions; but he had not foreseen John Dollar, or his unprofessional conversation, or the slight cast that actually added to his magnetic eyes, his cheery yet gentle confidence, or (least of all) a serious if casual invitation for the night.
"That's exactly what I do mean," said the author of these surprises. "It's the most silent room in London, and there are other little points about it. I got our friend Topham to give it a trial during the bread strike. His verdict was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would sleep the sleep of the just there!"
Edenborough had a laugh that turned him back into a schoolboy; but he checked it sharply, as though the sound put him to shame and pain.
"I would give anything for one decent night," he said. "But you are far too good, sir, especially to a man you know nothing at all about."
"I ought to know more in the morning, Mr. Edenborough, but it will keep very well till then. Enough for the night that you're a friend of the Home Secretary, and at your worst at just the time when a man wants to be at his best."
Edenborough smote his brow like a young man on the stage, but with a piteous spontaneity beyond all histrionic art.
"It's on Thursday!" he cried, as one in exquisite dread. "My God, I'm to be married on Thursday, and this is Sunday night! How can I toe the mark unless I get some sleep? And how can I sleep——"
"Leave that to me," said Dollar, cutting a pregnant pause as short as possible; "leave everything to me, and come straight up-stairs. I keep the room in constant readiness; you shall be fitted with pajamas, and I'll send a special messenger anywhere you like for whatever you may want in the morning. Come, my dear man! I am burning to give my Chamber of Peace a crucial test, because I know we shall all come out with flying colors!"
There was less confidence in the Doctor Dollar who ran down-stairs a little later and sat at his telephone with an urgent face. In another minute he had left the house, and in another two Mr. Topham Vinson was opening the door to him in Portman Square.
"I call this too bad of you," began the doctor, short of breath and shorter still of patience with his powerful friend.
"My dear fellow, I couldn't help it," vowed the Minister, with disarming meekness. "He would go straight to you, and just then I couldn't have rung you up without giving him away at this end."
"I can stay five minutes," said Dollar, looking at his watch, "to hear as much as you can tell me in the time of what I ought to have known before I saw your neurotic friend."
"Hasn't he told you all about himself?"
"Hardly a word worth anything in a case like this, where the cause matters more than the effect. Of course I could have insisted, but that might have finished him off for the night. I gather, however, that he's one of the First Lord's secretaries, but a friend of yours, on the brink of being married, and in more than the normal state about it, or something to do with it."
"I'll take your points in order," said Topham Vinson, who could be brisker than anybody when he chose. "George Edenborough is not only one of Stockton's secretaries, but the most private and most confidential of the crowd. I don't know about his being a friend of mine; I've been a friend to him for family reasons, and found him a nice enough fellow. But the girl he's going to marry—if they do marry—is one of us."
"If!" cried the doctor. "Do you mean to say she'd draw back in the last week?"
"She may not be able to help herself," was the grave reply. "George Edenborough is under a cloud that may burst at any moment."
"A sudden cloud?"
"Out of the blue for me. I only heard of it from Stockton on Friday night. But it's no new thing to him. He might have told me sooner, I think, seeing it was through me that Edenborough ever went to him."
"In some special capacity, I rather gather?"
"Yes; he can draw a bit—in fact, he's not a secretary at all except in name, but the First Lord's private draftsman. Stockton's a whale for details but a dunce at technicalities. What he likes is the thing on paper, as he sees it with his own eyes; so he makes his inspections with Edenborough and a sketch-block, illustrated notes are taken at every turn, and all sorts of impossible improvements worked out in subsequent collaboration. I had that this evening from the boy himself. It will show you what chances he has had of giving things away—or—selling them!"
"Is it as bad as that?"
"Stockton swears it is. To me it's inconceivable. But he gives chapter and verse of at least one drawing that found its way across the North Sea early in the year. Edenborough admits that he either lost it or had it stolen from him. He seems to have been more careful—whichever way you look at it—during the summer. But this autumn the trouble has begun again. A dockyard sketch-map has flown the German Ocean, come home to roost by some means into which we'd better not inquire, and is pronounced by Stockton a bad imitation of one made for him by Edenborough six weeks ago."
"Why a bad imitation, I wonder?"
"The original has been in the First Lord's archives ever since; he says the copy must have been made from memory; but he has good reasons why nobody but Edenborough could have made it."
"Reasons that are not so good in law, apparently?"
"Exactly; as yet there's no case and there has been no accusation. But I very much fear that traps are being set, and I've taken it on myself to put the madman on his guard."
"Yes; it was the first chance of getting hold of him, and that only by having the poor little bride to dinner as well. Heavy work, Dollar, drinking their healths and knowing what was in the air! The only comfort was that Edenborough knew as well as I did; it was written on his face, if you had the key, and I hadn't to do much beating about the bush when I got him to myself. He was wonderfully frank, from his point of view. He told me that the air of suspicion was driving him out of his mind; he said he hadn't slept for nights and nights."
"Although no accusation has been made?"
"Although not an open word has been said to connect him with the bad copy of his own map!"
"That's the worst thing you've told me," said Dollar quietly. "He protested his innocence, of course?"
"In absolute tears!"
"And what was your own impression, Mr. Vinson?"
"Extremely mixed. I felt that he was speaking the truth, and yet not the whole truth. He had an air of guilty knowledge, if not of actual guilt."
"His physical condition bears you out," observed the doctor with reluctance. "And the poor devil's to be married in four days' time!"
"There my pity's on the other side."
"But the girl's another friend of yours? May I ask her name?"
"Any relation of Admiral Trevellyn?"
"Own daughter to the old sea-dog, and if anything the breezier of the two! I couldn't imagine a young girl more like an old salt at heart. She'd go to sea if she could; as she can't, she's a little pillar of the Navy League—and engaged to the First Lord's best young man! Could you conceive a more ingenious irony, or a greater tragedy when the truth comes out? Dollar, it must come out before Thursday, if it's ever coming out at all!"
"Is it otherwise a likely match?"
"The very likeliest, but for this world's goods, and there'll be more of them one day. She has go enough for two, and they have tastes in common. I told you he could draw a bit, but she's a little artist, though you wouldn't think it if you saw her teaching him to skate at Prince's or taking me on at golf! Lucy Trevellyn's the best type of sportswoman—just as Vera Moyle is one gone wrong."
John Dollar was on his feet.
"Well, I've stayed longer than I intended," said he abruptly. "I promised to go up within half an hour to see if he was asleep. And he will be. But what's a night's rest against such a tragedy as the whole thing's bound to be!"
"Or such a mystery?" suggested Topham Vinson. "If you could only get to the bottom of that, Dollar, we might know how to act."
"I'm not a detective," returned the doctor—but the stiff words were hardly out before the stiff lips relaxed in a smile. "I've said that before, Vinson, and I shouldn't wonder if you made me say it again. I am out to stop things happening, not to bother about things that have been done and can't be mended. But in this case discovery may be the mother of prevention, and I must have a shot with both barrels while there's time."
He had come in glum and grumbling; he went off gay and incisive, subtly enlivened by the very gravity of the matter, as he always was. But it was grave enough, as was Dollar himself behind the sparkling mask that he wore unawares in all times of stress. And on one point his confidence was justified without delay; the young man in the Chamber of Peace was found drenched already in slumbers worthy of the name he had unwittingly bestowed upon that magic fastness.
But this was not a case in which the crime doctor could leave well alone. Every hour of the night he was up-stairs and down again; and, in the intervals, either deep in such grim reading as the Illustrative Cases of Transitory Mania, in the terrible fourth volume of Casper's Forensic Medicine, or deeper yet in his own cognate speculations.
In the morning it was he who carried up the patient's suit-case, woke him up, and watched the rising tide of memory drown the thanks in his throat. Now was the doctor's chance of checking Mr. Vinson's version of the young man's troubles; but he waited for George Edenborough to open his own heart, and waited in vain till the last five minutes, when the boy began to thank him and ended with the whole story.
It differed very little from the second-hand synopsis, but it confirmed more than one impression which Dollar would have given much to relinquish. The talk of intolerable suspicions was indeed more consistent with a guilty conscience than anything else, since it was duly followed by the admission that nobody had expressed such suspicions in anything like so many words. The crime doctor was sorry he had put the question; it was the only one he asked. But by exhorting Edenborough to get all the exercise he could, and by saying he had heard great things of Miss Trevellyn's skating, the reluctant dissembler had little difficulty in obtaining an immediate invitation to tea at Prince's Skating Club.
Edenborough had departed with a face almost radiant at the prospect; yet he had scarcely spoken of his beloved until the subject of skating cropped up. It was as though that was the only relation in which he could still think of her without pain and shame; and in due course he was discovered on the ice with the same look of lingering pride and joy.
It was the height of the skating afternoon, and the glassy strip an opaque pane on which a little giant might have been scribbling with a big diamond. The eye swam with pairs rotating as in a circus—with single practitioners at work under dashing instructors down the middle of the rink—while the ear sang with a resounding swish of skates. One of the workers was George Edenborough, who came off one leg, with a glistening forehead, to find his guest a good place behind the barrier.
"So glad you're not late for the waltzing," he said nervily. "I've had a long day out of town, and didn't get here myself till much later than I expected. Lucy's writing a letter in the lounge, but she'll be here in a minute for the enclosure, and after that we'll have tea."
Dollar ascertained that the waltzing enclosure was a close quarter-of-an-hour for all but those more or less proficient in that delicate and astounding art. Edenborough said that he himself was not quite up to the standard of these displays, and suited the action to the word by taking the floor unsteadily on his skates. As he seated himself a gong sounded, the band struck up, beginners dispersed, confident hands clasped lissome waists, long edges ended in lightning threes, and the rink was a maze of sweeping grace and symmetry.
Dollar had never seen anything like it in his life, for artificial ice was in its infancy in London before the war, and ever since he had been a busy man. He followed first one couple and then another, and each seemed to him more competent and graceful than the last. Yet the first short waltz was not over before an involuntary selection had eliminated all but a dark strong girl in red and a swarthy man with bright eyes and a black mustache.
"Those two are the best," said he—"that girl in red and the heavy alien."
"Do you think so?" cried the delighted Edenborough. "Then you're a judge, because that's Lucy!"
"I didn't mean to insult her partner," said Dollar in some dismay. "He's the best waltzer on the ice except Miss Trevellyn."
"He's an Italian marquis," returned Edenborough, in another voice. "Rocchi's his beastly name. I've no use for the fellow. But he can skate."
The first waltz finished there were two more in quick succession, and Edenborough had a better word for Miss Trevellyn's next partner. He was only a glowing schoolboy, home from Eton for his leave, but the past mistress lent herself to his dash and fling with a gusto equal to his own.
"I'm glad that's over," said Edenborough, as she escaped with her life from the desperado's clutches. "I say, confound that fellow Rocchi!"
She was waltzing with the handsome brute again; for he looked no less, with his deep blue chin and insolent eyes, and his air of conscious mastery. Edenborough plainly loathed him, chafing visibly as the pair swept past with certainly the appearance of some extra verve for his benefit. Dollar himself was very disagreebly impressed, and that down to the end, when Rocchi skated up with the lady, whom he surrendered with a gleam of palpable bravado.
Yet that impression altered with the very opening of Miss Trevellyn's not less resolute mouth. She had good teeth and a hearty voice, and eyes of a breezy and humane audacity. Dollar thought of Topham Vinson's tribute, and agreed with all except the odious comparison. There was, indeed, no comparing types as different as Lucy Trevellyn and Vera Moyle; but the one had never puzzled him in the past more completely than did the other before he took his leave.
And they had talked about the wedding, and their presents, and the wedding trip, as though neither God nor man could interfere!
"Only three days to go!" said Dollar to himself. And two of the three were soon gone without alarums or excursions, except on the part of the crime doctor himself. He was neglecting his practise for the case in hand; he was nowhere to be found when badly wanted on the Tuesday night, nor yet on the Wednesday morning; and this was the more extraordinary in that it was George Edenborough who wanted him, now with an ashier face than ever, and now on the telephone in a frantic voice.
At dusk on the Wednesday his key turned in the latch, and next day's bridegroom burst from the waiting-room at the same moment.
"At last!" cried Edenborough; and looked so ghastly in the electric light that Dollar did not switch it on in the consulting-room, or ask a question as he shut the door.
It was one of those mild unseasonable days on which the best of servants keep up the biggest fires; the doctor opened the French window that led from his den, down rusty steps, into a foul and futile enclosure of grimy gravel and moribund shrubs. In the meantime Edenborough had not taken a seat as mechanically bidden, but had planted himself in defiant pose before the fire; and the glow showed restless hands twitching into fists, but not the face of which one look had been enough.
"You might have left word where you were!" he began with great bitterness.
"I have just done so," returned Dollar, "at your rooms. I was wanting to see you—presently. It seems like fate, to find you here before me."
"I suppose you've heard the latest, wherever you've been?" pursued Edenborough, aware and jealous of some independent perplexity on the part of Dollar.
"I have heard so much!" said the doctor, dropping into a chair. "Better be explicit—and as expeditious as you can, my dear fellow. I have an appointment almost directly."
"Oh! there's not much to say," rejoined the other sardonically. "You remember when you came to Prince's, doctor?"
"I do, indeed."
They both spoke as if it were weeks ago.
"You know I told you I'd had a hard day out of town?"
"I meant with my chief—Lord Stockton—seeing his new brood of submarines."
"In their unfledged state, I suppose?"
"That was it—and making the usual sketches. That's my job—or was! I was Stockton's walking Kodak until yesterday afternoon; then I got the boot for a wedding present, and a chance of the jug for my honeymoon!"
The harsh voice broke, for all its sudden slang and satire. Dollar was driven to his only policy.
"I'm not going to pretend I don't know of this," he said. "I know of it from the Home Secretary. A duplicate of one of those last drawings of yours——"
"Well, a bad imitation, if you like."
The doctor paused as though he had finished a sentence, as though the amended phrase had interrupted his thought.
"Well?" said Edenborough grimly. "Did you hear how they got hold of it?"
"Intercepted in the post, I gathered, on its way abroad."
"In our post," said Edenborough. "Almost a casus belli in itself, I should have thought!"
"And have you no idea how it came there?" asked the doctor bluntly—but now he meant to be blunt; he was not sorry when his man flew into a feeble passion on the spot.
"What the devil do you mean, Doctor Dollar? I know no more about the matter than—I was going to say, than you do—but I begin to think you know more than you pretend!"
"I didn't think I had pretended," said Dollar, simply.
"Well, what do you know?" demanded Edenborough, in a fury of suspicion. "All, I suppose?" he added, with a schoolboy sneer, when the answer was slow to come.
"Yes; all," said the doctor, very gravely and reluctantly, as though driven into a pronouncement of life or death.
There was no outcry of surprise from Edenborough. He had some pride. But his knees began to tremble in the firelight, and his unclenched hands to twitch.
"I don't believe it," he exclaimed at length. "You tell me what you know!"
"All that you yourself suspected, and made yourself ill with suspecting—and couldn't sleep for suspecting—long ago!"
Pitiful tone and tender hand carried a heavier conviction than the words. And now it was the patient who had sunk into the chair, the doctor bending over his bowed and quivering shoulders.
"You are not the first man, my dear Edenborough," he went on, "who would seem to have been betrayed in cold blood by a woman—by the woman. Mark my words closely. I say it seems so. I would not condemn the greatest malefactor unheard. I meant to hear Miss Trevellyn first—feeling in my bones, against all reason, that there may still be some unimaginable explanation. But, if the worst be true of her, then the best is true of you; for you are the first man I have known bear the brunt as you have borne it, my very dear fellow!"
"What makes you suspect her?" groaned Edenborough to the ground.
"It's not a case of suspicion—don't deceive yourself as to that, Edenborough. I know that Miss Trevellyn produced—and parted with—those last two sketches about which there's been all the trouble. I only suspect that she got you to show her the originals, almost as soon as they were made, on the plea of her tremendous interest in the Navy."
"Quite true; she did," said Edenborough, but as though he did not appreciate what he was saying, as though something else had stuck in his mind. "But it was a tremendous interest!" he exclaimed, jumping up. "It was her father's interest; his life, indeed! Isn't it inconceivable that his daughter—apart from everything else I've found her—that she of all people should do a thing like this?"
"I am afraid the inconceivable happens almost as often as the unexpected," said Dollar, with a sigh. "Criminology, indeed, prepares us for little else. Think of the perfectly good mothers who have flown to infanticide as the first relief of a mind unhinged! The inversion of the ruling passions is one of the sure symptoms of insanity."
"But of course she's mad," cried Edenborough, "if she's guilty at all. But that's what I can't and won't believe. I can believe it one minute but not the next, just as I've suspected and laughed at my suspicions all this nightmare time. One look in her face has always been enough, and would be at this minute."
"Well, we shall soon see," said Dollar, glancing at the clock. "But I can only warn you that my evidence is overwhelming."
"Let's have it, then; what is your evidence?" demanded Edenborough, in a fresh fit of stone-blind defiance.
"My dear fellow, you force my hand!" said Dollar. "God knows you have a right—and it can't make matters worse than they are. My evidence consists of a full and circumstantial confession by a scoundrel to whom I took your own dislike at sight, and whose career I have spent the week investigating. I needn't tell you I mean the infamous Rocchi."
"Rocchi!" whispered Edenborough at the second attempt, as though his very tongue rejected the abhorrent name. Yet now he stood perfectly still, like a man who sees at last. "Well," he added in an ominously rational voice, "I must live long enough to send him to hell, whatever else I do."
"You will have to find him first," said Dollar. "He has gone back to his paymasters—not his own countrymen—they kicked him out long ago. I've taken it on myself to do the same, instead of handing him over to the police and doing an infinite deal more harm than good."
But Edenborough was not listening to a word; he was talking to himself, and he talked aloud as soon as he was given a chance.
"Now we know why she was so keen on my wretched job ... on the whole Navy?... No, not a life-long fraud like that.... And she pretended to dislike that brute as much as I did! I believe she did, too, but for his waltzing.... No, never jealous of him, and I'm not now ... but so much the worse, so much the more damnably cold-blooded!"
Dying philosopher could not have displayed a more acute detachment. But the last touch was lost upon Dollar, whose expectant ear had caught the ting of an electric bell.
"Edenborough," he said, in the voice of urgent conciliation, "the time has come for you to show what's in you. So far you have kept your head and played the man; keep it now, and you will play the hero! I still can't imagine what Miss Trevellyn can have to say for herself—but I implore you to hear her out, for I believe she is being admitted at this moment."
"Lucy—here—and you expected her?"
"I told you I had another appointment. But you were here first, one thing led to another, and it may be better as it is. You were bound to have this out between you—and to-day. If you wish me to be present—but no human being can help!"
"Unless it's you!" suggested Edenborough in a panic-stricken whisper. "I can't face her alone—I can't trust myself!"
Dollar took no notice of a knock at the door. "Edenborough, you must," he said gently; "and whatever she may have to say—much or little, and it may be much—you must hear patiently to the end. It's your duty, man! Don't flinch from it, for God's sake!"
"But I do flinch from it!" cried Edenborough below his breath. "I flinch from it for her sake as much as mine. I'm not the one to shame her, even if Rocchi's telling——"
The door opened in response to Dollar's decisive call. It was the little Barton boy, to say that Miss Trevellyn was in the waiting-room.
"Show her in," said Dollar. "I have more than Rocchi's bare word, Edenborough."
The distracted youth looked about him like a wild creature in a cage, and saw his loophole at the last moment.
"I won't be the one to shame her, whatever she has done!" he whimpered through his teeth. "If there's any explanation, she need never know I knew; if there's not, good-by!"
And he slipped through the open window, out upon the iron steps, as Dollar switched on the lights that turned the outer dusk to darkness; and the door opened even as the curtain was drawn in desperation, with a last signal to Edenborough to stand his ground and at least hear all.
"Good evening, Doctor Dollar," said Miss Trevellyn, briskly, and with that she stopped in her sturdy stride. "Is anything the matter?"
"Is it possible you don't know what?"
"Is it anything to do with George? You're his doctor, aren't you?" These questions quicker, but with a sensible check on any premature anxiety.
"He has consulted me, but the matter more directly concerns yourself. It's no use beating about the bush, Miss Trevellyn!" exclaimed the doctor, with a sudden irritation at her straight carriage and straighter look. "I have to speak to you about the Marchese Rocchi."
"Have you, indeed!"
Miss Trevellyn had winced at the name, but already her eyes looked brighter and bolder, and the firm face almost serenely obdurate.
"The Marchese Rocchi," he continued, "fled the country yesterday, Miss Trevellyn."
"I wondered why he was not at Prince's!"
"He fled because of a scandal in which you are implicated," said Dollar very sternly. "He has been trafficking in naval secrets—this country's secrets, Miss Trevellyn—and he swears you sold them to him. Is it true?"
"One moment," said the girl, with a first trace of emotion. "Is all this of your own accord, or on behalf of Mr. Edenborough?"
"Of my own accord entirely."
"You've been ferreting things out for yourself, have you?"
"You are entitled to put it so."
"Detective as well as doctor, it appears?"
"Miss Trevellyn, I implore you to tell me if these things are true!"
"So that you may tell your patient, I suppose?"
"No. I shall not tell him," said Dollar, disingenuously enough, but with the deeper sorrow.
"Very well! I'll tell you, and you can shout it from the roof for all I care now. It's perfectly true!"
Dollar started, not at the thing that had to come, but at the manner in which it came. It seemed, indeed, the last word in wickedness—impenitent, unblushing, even vainglorious to eye and ear alike. His glance flew to the curtained window, but no sound or movement came from the iron stair outside.
"True that you sold those drawings to this man Rocchi?" he heard himself saying at last, in a tone so childish that he scarcely wondered at the smile it drew.
"Perfectly true," said Miss Trevellyn.
"Drawings made by George Edenborough for the First Lord of the Admiralty, and shown to you because you were the stronger character and insisted on seeing them, but only in such confidence as might almost be justified between future man and wife?"
"I didn't sell his drawings," said Miss Trevellyn, impatiently. "I copied them, more or less from memory, and sold my own efforts."
"Of course I know that! It was a slip of the tongue," he admonished her, while marveling more and more. "And you can put the whole thing plainly without so much as a blush!"
"I am going to put you to the blush instead, Doctor Dollar," returned the lady, with a lighter touch. "You are very clever at finding out what I did, but you don't ask why I did it; that's not so clever of such a clever man, and I must just enlighten you before I go. The first drawing was not a copy; it was the original they got that time, and it was stolen from Mr. Edenborough on his way home from the Admiralty. He never knew exactly where it was stolen, but I always thought I knew. You are a bit of a detective, Doctor Dollar; well, so am I in my way. You have not let me into the secret of your success, and I shouldn't think of boring you with mine. I thought it happened at Prince's, and I suspected Rocchi, that was all. It was last spring, and I had all the summer to think about it. But when Prince's opened I set to work, for there was Rocchi making up to us both as before. He didn't get much change out of George, but perhaps I made amends when George wasn't there, and sometimes even when he was! He could waltz, you see, and so can I," said Lucy Trevellyn, with something like a sigh for her bereavement on the rink.
"Yet you copied the other two drawings, and you even admit you sold him the copies?"
"I sold them quite well," said Miss Trevellyn, with sparkling eyes—"and you may guess what I did with the money—but it's not fair to call them copies. I made them as inaccurate as possible without spoiling everything, and indeed I couldn't have made them very accurate from memory, and they were only rough sketches to begin with! Of course George was wrong to let me see them, but he was assisting in the best of causes. Rocchi was an expert professional spy. I soon sized him down as one. But he was not a naval expert—and I'm that as well! That's my last boast, Doctor Dollar; but it's not unjustifiable, if you come to think of George and me between us keeping a national enemy out of serious mischief, feeding a friendly Power with false plans, and giving the money to our own dear Navy League!"
Dollar surveyed the radiant minx with eyes that needed rubbing. His only sorrow was that Edenborough did not burst through the curtains without more ado; he must have extraordinary self-control, when he liked.
"Not that George was a conscious party to the fraud; he wouldn't have approved of it, he couldn't possibly, poor George!" said George's bride. "But I shall tell him all about it now; of course I always meant to tell him—after to-morrow—but he has had quite enough bothers of his own, and this was my show. I suppose you don't know what's been bothering him, Doctor Dollar? He says it's overwork, and I do think Lord Stockton's an old slave-driver; do you know, I haven't even seen George since the day before yesterday at Prince's?"
"Nor I," said Dollar, no longer with the least compunction, "from that hour to this."
"Of course I know he's all right," concluded Miss Trevellyn, as they were parting perfect friends, "because he has rung me up several times to say so, and he looked better on Monday than for ever so long. But I must own I shall be glad when I get him away for a real good rest."
She had refused to hear another word from Dollar in explanation, or of regret, and she made her departure with all the abruptness of a constitutionally decided person. But she had blushed once at least in the last few minutes. And the doctor ran back into his den with singing heart, ready to fall upon his patient's neck in deep thanksgiving and even more profound congratulation.
No patient was there to meet him even now, but the curtain swayed a little before the open window. Dollar reached it at a bound; but there was nobody outside on the iron steps, and the curtain filled behind him as the inner door banged in the draft. The horrid little space at the back of the house, between the high black walls with the broken-bottle coping, lay empty of all life in the plentiful light from the back windows—but for an early cat that fled before Dollar's precipitate descent into the basement.
"The gentleman's gone," said Mrs. Barton at once. "He come through this way some time ago—said he couldn't wait no longer out there!"
"How long do you suppose he had waited?"
"Not long," said Mrs. Barton firmly. "Bob here was at his tea when he had to go up to show the young lady in; and the young gentleman, it couldn't've been more than three or four minutes before he was through 'ere as if something had 'appened."
"I didn't hear him."
"He was anxious you shouldn't be disturbed, sir."
"Did you show him out, Bobby?"
The master had never been so short with them. Mrs. Barton felt that something was the matter, but Bobby quaked.
"Which way did he go—and how—foot or taxi?"
"I—please, sir—I never stopped to see, sir!"
Dollar flew to his telephone; forsook it for a taxicab; drew Edenborough's rooms in vain; inquired as vainly (as an anonymous wedding guest, uncertain of the church) at Admiral Trevellyn's; was at the House of Commons by half past six, and at Scotland Yard (armed with written injunctions from the Secretary of State) before seven.
At that hour and place the matter passed out of the hands of Doctor John Dollar, who could only hasten home to Welbeck Street, there to enter upon the most shattering vigil of his life—the terrible telephone at his elbow—and still more terrible inquirers on the telephone as the night wore on!
But never one word of news.
Toward midnight Topham Vinson arrived with the elaborate sandwiches and even the champagne that he had found awaiting him at home. It was the measure of a born leader; the doctor had not broken his fast since lunch; and in the small hours he once dozed for some minutes in his chair.
But the politician had not the temperament to wait for the telephone to talk to him; he talked repeatedly into the telephone, set a round dozen of myrmidons by the ears, and at last was rightly served by being sent off to Hammersmith to identify the dead body of a defaulting clerk, just recovered from the Thames.
"I'm not coming with you," Dollar had said, even when the description seemed to tally. "Edenborough wouldn't drown himself—and this is my place."
It was a being ten years older who opened his own front door again at daybreak. His face was as gray as the wintry dawn, the whole man bowed and broken. Topham Vinson stood aghast on the step.
"It isn't all over, is it?"
The doctor nodded with compressed lips.
"When and where?"
"I don't know. Come in. They're getting up down-stairs; there'll be some tea in a minute."
"For God's sake tell me what you've heard!"
"Haven't I told you? They rang up just after you went. He bought prussic acid yesterday!"
Dollar had dropped into his elaborate old chair; the bent head between his hands drooped over its own reflection in the monastic writing-table.
"Who rang up?" asked the man on his legs.
"Some of your people."
"Was that all they had to tell you?"
"That was all; we shan't have long to wait for the rest."
"Where did he buy it?"
"At his own chemist's—'to put a poor old dog out of its misery!' His very words, Vinson, so they tell me! I shall hear them all my life."
"And it has taken all night to learn this, has it, from the chemist's where the poor devil dealt!"
Dollar understood this outburst of truculent emotion.
"That was my fault," said he. "I told them to confine their attention to entries made in the poison books after five o'clock yesterday afternoon. Edenborough had signed his name and got the stuff earlier in the day."
"Before you told him anything?"
"He had his own suspicions, you must remember. I had confirmed them—and her first words left no more to be said, that he could bear to hear! If only he had waited another minute! If only I had dragged him back to face it out!" groaned Dollar, in a bottomless pit of self-reproach. "I call myself a crime doctor, yet I let my patient creep into space with a bottle of prussic acid, and commit the one crime I had to prevent!"
"Why prussic acid, I wonder?"
The idle question was not asked for information, but it happened to be one that Dollar could answer, and it brought him to his book-shelves with a certain alacrity.
"I know," he said, "though I never thought of it till this minute! I was trying to write him a prescription on Sunday night, when the poor chap suddenly remarked that Shelley was right, and I found him dipping into these Letters, and had the luck to spot the very bit he'd struck. It was this"—and he read out the passage beginning: "You, of course, enter into society at Leghorn: should you meet with any scientific person, capable of preparing the Prussic Acid, or essential oil of bitter almonds, I should regard it as a great kindness if you could procure me a small quantity"—down to "it would be a comfort to me to hold in my hands that golden key to the chamber of perpetual peace."
Topham Vinson's only comment was to pick up the book, which had fallen to the floor with the concluding words. Dollar was swaying where he stood, glancing in horror toward the door; at that moment it opened, and Mrs. Barton entered with the tea-tray.
"Mrs. Barton," said the doctor, in a voice that failed him as it had not done all night, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but did that boy of yours speak the truth when he told me he had seen Mr. Edenborough out?"
"He did not, sir, and his father thrashed him for it!" cried the good woman. "And that was very wrong of Barton, because I was as bad as the boy, in not telling you at the time. So we've all done wrong together, and we don't deserve to stay, as I told the both of them!"
The poor soul was forgiven and consoled, with an unconscious sympathy not lost on Topham Vinson, to whom it was extended a moment later.
"Take a drink of your tea," said Dollar. "It will do you good."
"What about you?"
"I'm going up-stairs first."
"You've thought of something!"
"I have," replied Dollar in a tragic whisper. "I've thought of my 'chamber of perpetual peace.'"
That sanctuary was on the second floor, and it had triple doors so spaced that each could be shut in turn before the next was opened. The house might have been in an uproar, and yet one might have entered this room without admitting the slightest sound by the door. The window was of triple glass that would have deadened an explosion on its sill, and the walls were thickly wadded behind an inner paneling of aromatic pine.
The first sensation on entering was one of ineffable peace and quiet; next came a subtle, soothing scent, as of all the spices of Arabia; and lastly a surprising sense of scientific ventilation, as though the four sound-proof walls were yet not impervious to the outer air, but as though it were the pungent air of pine-clad mountains, in miraculous circulation here in the heart of London.
All this would have struck the visitor by degrees; but to John Dollar, who had devised and superintended every detail, it all came home together and afresh as he entered softly with the Home Secretary; and a certain composite effect, unforeseen in the beginning and still unexplained, fell upon him even now, and with it all the weight of his own fatigue; so that he could have flung himself on bed or couch as a doomed wretch sinks into the snow, but for the light in the room and what the light revealed.
It was light of a warm, strange, coppery shade, that he had found for himself by dyeing frosted electric lamps as children dye Easter eggs; it was the very softest and yet least sensuous shade that eyes ever penetrated with perfect ease, and it turned the room into a little hall of bronze. The simple curtains might have been golden lace, richly tarnished with age; the furniture solid copper; the bed an Eastern divan, and the form upon the bed a sleeping Arab.
It was George Edenborough lying there in all his clothes, a girl's photograph beside him on the coverlet, and beside the photograph a tiny phial that caught the light.
"Stay where you are!" whispered Dollar in a voice that thrilled his companion to the core. And he stole to the bed, stooped over it for a little lifetime, and so came stealing back.
"How long has he been dead?" said Topham Vinson, harshly; but in realty his blood was freezing at an unearthly smile in that unearthly light.
"Dead?" was the doctor's husky echo. "Don't you know the smell of bitter almonds, and have you smelt it yet? Here's the golden bottle he hadn't opened when he lay down—perhaps for the first time since he was here on Sunday night—and this is his wedding morning, and he's only—only fast asleep!"
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